Female veterans are one of the fastest growing homeless populations the nation, and state officials say it’s no different in Hawaii.
But homelessness isn’t the only issue female veterans are faced with, officials say. They also are confronted with high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual assault and unemployment.
Hawaii lawmakers are pushing a bill to help provide more services to female veterans. The proposed law would create and fund a full-time counselor position in the Hawaii Office of Veterans Services with a focus on female veterans who served in active duty.
Hawaii Office of Veterans Services Director Ronald Han said he asked to fund this position in the division’s supplemental budget request, but it wasn’t approved.
Nationwide, over half of all female veterans receiving Department of Veteran Affairs health care have a disability or illness that occurred during service, according to the VA. Meanwhile, one in four women receiving VA health care — compared to one in 100 men — reported experiencing sexual assault or harassment during service, known as military assault trauma.
With the recent Department of Defense announcement to allow women in all front-line combat jobs, including infantry and special operations units, advocates say the need for services for female veterans will only grow. National data shows women are more likely to be raped by a male fellow soldier than killed in combat.
“They’re a growing minority,” said Ann Greenlee, Hawaii State Director for the Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service. “I would hope that in 10 or 20 years, we wouldn’t need the position because women wouldn’t be considered a minority.”
Greenlee served on the Hawaii Military Women’s Task Force, which found in 2013 that military women in Hawaii are disproportionately affected by sexual assault, unemployment and challenges to access health care and child care. The counselor position would also help inform women of available services and stay on top of national policy changes, she said.
“We found that, in general, female veterans were much less aware of their benefits and services available to them and much less likely to consider themselves eligible for those services,” Greenlee said.
Supporters of the bill say addressing female veterans’ issues in Hawaii is especially important because of the state’s large military population. Every branch of the military is located on the island of Oahu, which is also the headquarters of the United States Pacific Command.
Female veterans make up nearly 15 percent of the United States Armed Forces, and are expected to make up 10 percent of the veteran population by 2020. Nearly 13,000 female veterans live in Hawaii.